Puyallup People: First on the Waterways

The Foss Waterway Seaport maritime museum is located on Puyallup land, and this is an important story to tell,” said Seaport Museum Executive Director Wesley A. Wenhardt.  For millennia, the Puyallup people have lived by, traveled on, and drawn sustenance from local waterways. The Puyallup maintained strong connections to Puget Sound, the Puyallup River, and the creeks and streams that feed into it. The exhibit shows the historical and traditional connections between the Puyallup people and the waterways, how the tribe persevered in maintaining those connections, and what the relationship looks like today.

The exhibit highlights the life of the Puyallup People in the South Sound, including canoe building and fishing technique, resource utilization, diet, recreation, world view, and contact with other tribes and later explorers. To tell this story accurately, the exhibit content has been developed in partnership with local members of the Puyallup Tribe.

The story of the Puyallup portrayed in the exhibit will cover past, present, and future relationships with the water and access to it. The exhibit will provide visitors with an appreciation of the impact and culture of the Native Americans who lived here. In addition to being viewed by the public, the exhibit will add to local school curriculum through on-site programs, and provide a space for Native American-based public and educational programming at the Seaport.

Puyallup canoe during the “Paddle to Seattle,” 2016

“Generous support from the tribe’s historic preservation office and language department contributed to the development of the exhibit,” said exhibit curator Chris Fiala Erlich.

“We are impressed with the sensitive and comprehensive approach the Seaport has taken, guided by the curator Chris Erlich,” said Brandan Reynon Assistant Director, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Archaeologist, Puyallup Tribe of Indians. A series of cultural programing activities were scheduled at the Foss Waterway Seaport including canoe paddling, carving, weaving and dance. The exhibit also coincided with Tribal Canoe Journeys which was hosted locally by the Puyallup People in July 2018.

This special exhibit received financial support from the City of Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 2016 Heritage Project Grant, The Puyallup Tribe, TOTE Maritime, Port of Tacoma, Bruce Dees & Associates, Connelly Law Offices, Foss Waterway Development Authority, Frederickson Power LP, Georgio’s Catering Company, P n J Machining, Inc., Pro Call Center, Inc., Sound Glass Sales, Inc., T.R. Trucking, Inc., Tacoma Community College, and Foss Waterway Seaport. The exhibit was curated by Chris Erlich and fabricated by KelTech Plastics of Tacoma.